Thursday, 12 March 2009

Happy Together (春光乍泄).

In my personal opinion, Happy Together (春光乍洩) (1997) constitutes the last "great" output from WKW. About the relationship of a gay couple, it was controversial and also sensationalized during its release as including a "love scene" between the late Cantopop heartthrob, Leslie Cheung and "ladies man", Tony Leung. The movie got a "Category 3" in Hong Kong in terms of viewership admission ie "R-rated". Re-watching that infamous scene, which lasted about 4 to 5 minutes, I felt that Tony Leung looked kinda "tense" whilst Leslie Cheung is looking every bit at ease heh. But this movie is beyond that, and what WKW has done is giving an intense look into a vicious cycle of love-hate relationship between the two main characters. There is nothing "happy" about it (in fact if the characters were to be a man and woman, it would give the same intense feeling). The songs featured, amongst others, are I Have Been In You by the late Frank Zappa, and the haunting scores by Astor Piazzolla.
Set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the film started proper with Ho Po Wing (Leslie Cheung) telling Lai Yiu Fai (Tony Leung) that he was bored with him and ended their relationship whilst in the midst of their journey to see the famous Iguazu Falls. The breathtaking Falls served as a metaphor of a sort, as Ho had previously bought a lamp depicting it, as an ultimate destination point of their turbulent relationship, of which neither could reach together happily. Lai narrated that this was not the first time they broke off, and got back together. They came here from Hong Kong, in the midst of the pre-handover from the British to China, to run away from Lai's father, as Lai had stolen a sum of money from his father's business old friend to fund their lifestyle and trip.
Lai then had to grudgingly work as a doorman earning tips at a tango bar to re-coup cash to return to HK. He had spent all his money on the trip as well as on Ho. But Ho (whether consciously or by co-incidence) showed up one night in the arm of another man at the bar, noticed Lai but both ignored each other. Ho then continued to purposely went to the bar in the arms of various men, to hurt Lai emotionally and arouse his jealousy. Then out of the blue, he phoned Lai at the bar which Lai promptly ignored. He then called Lai's place of residence, asking him to visit him. Lai ignored this invitation but did show up in drunken state at Ho's apartment whereby Lai unleashed his emotions and pent up frustration at Ho. Ho later gave a gold wrist watch to Lai so that he could get some cash, but the next day, asked Lai to return it. He appeared to have been beaten up. Lai promptly returned the watch but warned Ho not to contact him again. Presumably, the watch was stolen by Ho, he had been beaten up badly the second time around as he showed up at Lai's doorstep. Lai emotional defense melted as he saw the state of Ho was in, and took him to the hospital. Up to this point, the entire movie was in chrome-like black and white. The coloration came in at this point, reflecting the blossoming emotions of the characters.
Lai later allowed Ho to stay at his rented apartment as Ho's both hands had been injured, and nursed him back to health. There are some lighter, humour infused moment here, as Ho tried to seduce back Lai. In time, Lai accepted Ho again and their relationship blossomed once more. Lai seemed most contented when Ho is back with him. This might hint at Lai being driven to point of being possessive because of insecurity whilst Ho seemed to be unable to hold on monogamous relationship, and took Lai for granted as a temporary, solid emotional ground to hold on. He could "see" that Lai is very much in love with him and manipulate this to his advantage.
The momentary "happy" re-start was not to last as once Ho fully recovered, he quickly became bored and continued his wayward, promiscuous attitude when Lai was not around. By this time, Lai had worked in a Chinese restaurant as kitchen helper where longer hours are required for more money. He also met Chang (Chang Chen), a travelling Taiwanese, who may be a homosexual himself. Lai and Chang became friends at the work place.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Lai and Ho deteriorated further. Ho began to come back late from his nightly activities, leaving Lai alone in the apartment, after work, waiting for him. When Lai questioned him, Ho would get defensive and berated Lai for being such a tightass. The issue came to ahead when Ho confronted Lai as to where his passport was, of which Lai refused to return it back to him (Lai had kept it secretly during Ho's recovery period, possibly to prevent "losing" him again). Ho, in his tantrum, beaten up Lai and left. Lai, unable to give up the memories of Ho and lost him once more, became very depressed again and may even be suicidal, at this stage. Chang consoled him by accompanying him on a nightly drinking sessions. He also asked him to pour all his repressed emotional pains into a tape recorder as he will bring it to the end of the world (Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego) . There is a lighthouse (Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse) there which one could drop all their sorrows. Chang may also served as the strength and pivotal point to Lai to break "free".
Chang then left to continue on his journey. In the meantime, Lai tried to cope with his depression and loneliness by engaging in casual sexual encounters with other men in public places. He also encountered Ho again but did not acknowledge each other. During this period, he had undertaken a job at a local abattoir because of higher pay and moved to another apartment. He also wrote an apologetic letter to his estranged father. Ho, in an apparent same cycle as before, tried to contact Lai again but to no avail. Ho then rented Lai's old apartment where they spent time together and waited desperately in vain for Lai to return. This is the most poignant scene in my opinion. It seemed that Ho is perpetually "trapped" in the relationship on his own now, whilst Lai has managed to break free and moved on.
Eventually, when Lai saved up enough money to return to HK, he successfully dropped by Iguazu Falls, reflecting and reminiscence of his failed relationship with Ho. There, Lai was shown standing at The Devil's Throat section of the Falls, holding on to Ho's passport. He narrated that Ho and himself should be there together. This surmised their relationship all this while, a relationship which could and should have been elevated to another stage of maturity, rather than running to a stand still in a non-conclusive, emotionally exhausting cycle.
The final closing scene had Lai stopped by Taiwan on his way back to HK, to visit Chang's parents food stall where he took a photograph of Chang standing beside the lighthouse at the end of the world. Chang had told him previously that if there is one place Lai could "find" him, it would be there. Stability finally entered Lai's turbulent life all these years. At this point, Danny Chung's version of The Turtles' Happy Together kicks in, giving a sense of hope to the character.
An alternative ending with Tony's character killing himself is documented in Buenos Aires Zero Degree making-of documentary. The documentary also captured the ever changing thought of WKW. The original plot is way different from the final released version. WKW also removed all scenes featuring HK Cantopop star Shirley Kwan. I preferred the released version and am glad WKW did so, as the way I see it, the original plot is way too dark and nihilistic.

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